Interview by Jared Elston
I remember the first time I saw Nik Baden was at a Gatorade Free Flow Tour in Vail, Colorado circa 2012. A Red Bull helmet sat on his head, airbrushed on the back sat a howling wolf with gold teeth, and a skillset far and above the rest of the competition. Nik’s contest days have come and gone, leaving the US team in pursuit of a snowboard career more authentic to himself. It didn’t take long for him to make a name for himself amongst the core video scene, snagging a Rookie of the Year award after filming his first part for Beta. I was lucky enough to be a part of that project with him, which planted a seed between us that has blossomed into a friendship that has brought me more laughter and good times than I could ever hope for. Nik specifically requested me not to write some sappy intro to this interview so I’ll try and keep it short. The 23 year old tends to be outspoken on many things he likes and dislikes about snowboarding at the moment, so it was an easy decision when Slush reached out for me to interview him. This kid is a one-of-a-kind in every sense, knows how to make magic on his snowboard, and makes sure he’s having a good time while doing it.
What’s pissing you off in snowboarding?
People who don’t have sponsors from snowboard brands. A lot of those people in the competitions ride for an energy drink or something that is so random—not that that’s a bad thing because you gotta take what you can get—but I don’t think that’s very good for snowboarding. They’re not helping snowboarding other than getting them to the next competition. I don’t know, what else, what do you think.
Yeah, and that’s just the way it is.
But it’s kind of like you’re just playing the game.
Exactly. Someone like Blake Paul pays a lot of attention to Instagram but he’s not an Instagram snowboarder. He puts in work making video parts and things beyond Instagram.
Yeah I think you have to have a video part to back it up almost.
A video part and just knowing what’s good, like having a clue. There’s so many people who are getting paid that just don’t have a clue, and you can’t blame any one person or company or anyone for that.
Terrain park snowboarding can be pretty fucking hard to watch these days.
I mean, you watch somebody boring, and it’s boring—but then you watch somebody who is just ripping the park and it’s sometimes the most fun shit to watch. So I think it can actually be pretty fun to watch, especially when it is someone who isn’t on park rails and jumps doing the same stuff every day.
The street or powder guys’ park clip is going to be more entertaining than the park guys’ powder or street clip.
For the most part.
Is your story of going from contests to filming the same as everyone else?
Yeah pretty much. Just everything about competition wasn’t fun anymore. The only reason I was there was because my friends were there and then once my friends stopped doing them, I wasn’t motivated to keep doing it. I’m not hanging out with people that I like, I’m not snowboarding the way I want to snowboard. I’m not snowboarding on stuff I want to snowboard on. It was just so boring and all the people sucked, so yeah, it is the same as everyone else. That group of people who go to the competitions every week are like the worst group of snowboarders you could hang out with. It’s insane.
What has changed since you won Rookie of the Year after filming your first video part? Bank account, girls, ego?
Uh, nothing on the girl front. That’s been pretty much the same. Bank account got a little nudge though. I’m very proud of it and the contract bump, but Rookie of the Year award doesn’t matter for longer than 3-5 years after you get it. I don’t think people really care about that stat anymore. I’m sure my ego has grown a little bit but when you snowboard for a while, filming or whatever, it’s the self confidence of knowing what I can or can’t do. There’s a lot of things that you and I watch and don’t really care to do on a snowboard, so it’s not necessarily ego. It’s that the confidence in your opinion grows when your career is on the rise. You feel like your opinion is more valid because of that.
Which it probably is.
For sure it is. Think about people you look up to in anything. Weird analogy but I imagine If a realtor is talking about the price of a house and it’s his first year, you should be skeptical of what he is saying, but if it’s this dude who has done it for 10-15 years, their opinion is more trustworthy.
You found a home over at Sims with a dream team of hell-riders. How is that going? Is their ‘don’t give a fuck’ attitude a front?
Yeah it is kind of a dream team. A lot of those people I knew pre-Sims. Keegan [Valaika], Scott [Blum], and Butters [Brock Nielsen] took me on one of my first snowboard trips to get footage for a film. They’ve always had my back. Cody [Warble], I’ve known since we were ten years old. With John [Jackson], I didn’t know him personally but obviously looked up to him forever. Shuhei [Sato] I knew from contests. I’ve known people at the brand for a while, so it just made sense. I guess the ‘don’t give a fuck’ attitude is not a front at all, but I don’t think that’s really the attitude. I think it’s more, “We are going to do our thing regardless, so we’re going to do that the best we can.” But no one is trying to be the ultimate renegade or crazy shit, it’s just the way all of us are. The group of people—everybody does give a fuck. Butters is trying to make the best thing he can, and then all of us are trying to snowboard the best we can. On top of that, all of us are opinionated so it might come off as dickhead.
If you could add any person to the Sims team, who would it be and why?
Nicolas Muller. Haha no I’m kidding. But like, why wouldn’t you put Nicolas Muller on? He’s arguably one of the best snowboarders of all time. I guess I’ll continue on the Nicolas Muller thing, I just think he got so shafted by snowboarding to the point where he would be a good fit for Sims, because we’re doing our thing without people’s input. But for real, Parker [Szumowski] would be the best person to get on Sims. He’s gone on trips with us and meshed well. He also rips and he can snowboard everything, which is important. He is untouchable.
I’ve noticed that you’re a bit more pessimistic when you’re fresh off a Sims trip. What’s up with that?
Haha. Maybe it’s the crew morale and getting each other riled up on things. It’s funny because we definitely all argue about the same snowboard shit that everybody else argues about. When you are with a group of people growing relationships like that, it’s just easy to get stuck in your way. All six of us are agreeing on something so it’s like, “Yeah everybody thinks this.” Then I go to another group of people and they’ll have a different idea and I’ll put my guard up a little bit.
“IF I DON’T WANT TO SNOWBOARD ON SOMETHING, THERE’S NOTHING IN THE BACK OF MY HEAD GOING, “OH NO YOU HAVE TO FOR YOUR JOB.”
It seems like Scott and Keegan don’t do anything that won’t be fun, which is a very admirable trait. I’ve seen you adopt that attitude. Do you think they’ve earned that after long careers and many video parts? Do you think you need to put more work in before moving in that direction? Obviously certain aspects of professional snowboarding aren’t necessarily fun, but just like any job, do you think that sometimes you gotta do some bullshit?
Yeah. I think everyone has to do things they don’t want to do. Whether it’s some weird catalog photo shoot, talking to people at brands that don’t care about you… When it comes to snowboarding stuff , I feel like it’s different. If I don’t want to snowboard on something, there’s nothing in the back of my head going, “Oh no you have to for your job.” When it comes to actually snowboarding, I feel like you have more freedom to do whatever you want. Maybe you’ll try to jump off a cliff a few times instead of building a kicker. I think you could also use the argument, which is a pessimistic argument… You could spend two days building a jump, not get a clip, and now you’re three days deep, zero clips, and worked from building.
In my opinion, there’s a time and a place to build jumps in the backcountry. You and I like to bitch at each other about this as you don’t usually fuck with shoveling or building jumps, but it’s hard to argue that some of your most notable footage has been on said wedges. It’s not a mystery that spending a day building a jump isn’t glamorous but many snowboarders, including myself, think the juice is worth the squeeze. What’s your take on this?
I think that’s the thing, right? Is the juice worth the squeeze? Like, what are you doing that week or that day? I think you and I have built quite a few jumps, and a few in Utah where we have a place to stay and no time limit, but if I go on a trip somewhere else, I usually don’t want to just spend three out of ten days building jumps, unless I’m confident it will make for good footage.
It depends on where you are and how long you’re there. I don’t know, you’re really good at just seeing something and deciding to build a jump. I feel like it’s hard for me to make up my mind sometimes out there. I’ll see something and think, “You could build a jump there or you could look around for another five minutes and find somewhere else to build a jump or hit something naturally.”
Yeah, time management out there can be hard to deal with.
Yeah, and everyone does it so differently.
When you have more than two riders, it gets kinda fucked if people aren’t on the same page.
Right. And I would much rather be with somebody like you, who is able to decide if they want to build a jump right at the beginning. I also feel like I have that relationship with the Sims guys, we can all talk about things and just say it right off the cuff, doesn’t matter. Otherwise it’s this awkward thing where no one is speaking up and you end up building some shit that you don’t like. That’s the worst. The crew dynamic just has to be pretty right for everything.
Yeah, you’re already starting on something and then someone is bitching about doing it. Sometimes you’ve already spent like an hour on it.
That’s the thing. To build a jump, you’re an hour in before you are even building a jump. Unless you’re solo and it’s something that you can just pick off. If it’s an actual jump that the crew is trying to hit, it’s an hour of looking at things, eating snacks, whatever.
Would you rather hit something natty and get a middle of the part clip or hit something for four hours and get your ender?
I would rather hit something natty and just be psyched on getting a clip. That’s the time management thing though. but looking back after the trip, I would be pretty psyched on the four hour build for a memorable ender clip. When you’re out there, you have to get priorities straight. And whatever the feature is, it might be worth it for you and not worth it for me.
"THAT’S A HARD MEDIUM TO ROCK. THE “BEYOND-SCARY-THIS-IS-STUPID COMPARED TO “THIS IS A GOOD USE OF TIME.”
If you build a jump, the whole squad can eat.
Yeah. And if not me, someone probably will. A clip for the group is a success.
You called me to hit Pyramid last spring, yet were very fussy during the build. Was that worth it?
Yeah, it was worth it. That was one of the best sessions I’ve ever been a part of. You and I were able to land tricks, but just everything about it. The group we had was unmatched. The two days of building were vigorous.
But the squad was good, the banter was good for the most part during the build.
It was great. I mean, the hike was gnarly as fuck. You’re carrying so much shit out there.
Double teaming a duffle bag full of salt. That shit sucked.
Yeah, it’s not a close walk. It’s uphill for an hour.
A bunch of people that weren’t hitting the jump were doing the same thing every day and weren’t even getting close to as much out of it as we are.
They’re getting nothing out of it. Maybe, if they’re lucky they got a piece of pizza, high fives, and some beers. Nobody got anything out of that other than helping us out. I owe all those people more than a dap up. I owe them a day of building something and watching them. It was the coolest thing ever and it was worth it. It was worth it not eating anything that day just to throw up before bed. So yes, thank you Ben Bilodeau, Alex Sherman, Tyler Orton, Brock Nielsen, Justin Meyer, Chad Unger, Oli Gagnon, Bob Plumb, Griffin Siebert, Max and Gus Warbington brought a gang of helpful Mervins, Tucker Andrews, Jerm and everyone else.
I would consider you to be pretty critical of other snowboarders outfits yet you’re still rocking these goofy-ass hats. What do you have to say for yourself?
I guess I’ve always been a beanie fan. A lot of my favorite snowboarders have always worn kind of weird beanies, and now one of my best friends, Blake [Axelson], makes his own hats that I like. So I’m down to wear whatever hat Blake is giving me. But I wouldn’t be wearing that beanie if it wasn’t his. A lot of people just wear the most standard stuff and it’s not fun to go to the mountain and think, “Oh, all these people look the same.” It’s like going to a skatepark in Southern California, “Oh you guys all just started watching trendy videos on Instagram and now you’re wearing pretty much the same shit.” Watching old videos, people would wear kind of crazy stuff and it was cool. It makes things more memorable. And when your friend is making the stuff , it feels good.
You look up to Keegan a lot. Some folks like to draw comparisons between the two of you. Do you want to be the next Keegan? How has your approach changed since you started filming with him or being around him?
I’ve just looked up to him for a long time. Before I met him, I looked up to him.
I think he maybe sees some of himself in me so he has always taken me under his wing on things. Everybody looks up to his snowboarding, I just look up to him as a person. Everything about him is just admirable from my perspective. I would like to be my own version of Keegan Valaika, he’s just a great person. He’s way more legendary than somebody like me with the way he did everything as a snowboarder. When he was in the spotlight, nobody was doing it that sick. He went to school, made his own company, made the dopest snowboard pants, plays music, and was part of making the videos. I’ve always looked to Gnarly as being a cool brand. Everything about him was unmatched by anyone and probably will be unmatched for a long time. It’s one thing to do those things and then put out a couple minutes every once in a while, but he put out dope-ass parts that people like to look at all the time. And he did that while being busy. I can’t imagine actually. Who do you want to be like?
Ian Boll. Uhh, I don’t know. As far as snowboarders go, it’s always changing for me. As a kid, it was always Travis Rice.
Right, but it is always changing for sure. You meet all these great people. Somebody who I think is pretty great and a vet in our game that I really like to hang out with is Danimals. The way that he carries himself and the way he does things.
Yeah, he’s definitely a great role model.
He’s such a good person to look up to who is doing his thing, snowboarding really well, and then just having a blast while doing it.
Blake [Paul] I would say too. Just the way he goes about everything is pretty funny. He definitely hustles but also is chilling.
Yeah, he’s just a very precise dude with the way he does things. There’s intention with everything he does. Him and I the other day, he’s been biking a little bit and we both have these shitty bikes and so we went on a bike ride for 20 or 30 miles with the intention of sweating and getting in shape. He brought a pre-roll on the bike ride. I really like those people where they’re like enough of a superstar to look up to but enough of a friend to hang out with. That’s the greatest medium.
He’s always got a funny little anecdote when you least expect it.
Those are always the best people. On one hand, this guy is a fucking superstar and then at the same time, we can go to the bar and play pool or watch a movie and laugh. Or you’ll be snowboarding with someone and they’re like, “Oh this is scary.” That’s always kind of nice too. It’s easy to relate to someone when they voice that something is scary, and I had been thinking the same thing.
Like, I thought I wasn’t supposed to be scared of this.
Watching videos is just such a blurred thing, you think this guy just does this for breakfast. Then you hang out and it turns out they feel the same way about it that I do. It’s fun, but there’s this time where you have to scare the shit out of yourself almost every day. You gotta scare yourself and you gotta wake up early and you gotta build a jump or whatever it is. There’s always these sacrifices to make the best outcome.
Yeah, I think that’s my goal. Scare myself as much as possible.
Right, without being like, this is dumb. That’s a hard medium to rock. The “beyond-scary-this-is-stupid” compared to “this is a good use of time.” I guess it comes down to time management like we were talking about earlier. I think hitting things without building a jump is really chances at it, you’re just like, “Okay I’m going to launch off this and hopefully it works.” Our time with Jake Blauvelt, I was really impressed by that. He was able to hit scary shit in such a meticulous manner and then either do it again or be like “Nah, I’m good on that.” The experience shines through watching people like that. I’d love to go on a trip with Iikka [Backstrom] because we’re friends out of snowboarding and to be around his experience on the board would be really nice.
Yeah, I always feel like I have experience and know what I’m doing and then every year, I’m like, “I was an idiot last year.” Whatever I think now, I’ll think I’m dumb in four years or whatever.
Right, and that comes down to things that you say, things that you wear, things that you do every day. You grow and times change. I think with that, it’s so important to follow your gut and if you don’t like something and you want to speak up on it, just speak up on it. Maybe you aren’t going to feel the same way in the next couple of years, but it’s okay to change your mind on things and change as a person. We’re all growing.
Yeah, people have a hard time changing their minds once they’ve set that path.
Yeah. Or a lot of people are scared of what people will think of them if they change their mind or something. Whatever it is, it’s okay to change your mind.
Has filming video parts gotten jocky?
It’s kind of always been jocky I would think. I don’t know. It depends on who you are and the way you do it. There’s jocky stuff about all of it. The actual act of filming a video part and going out and snowboarding every day is not jocky at all. It comes down to walking the line of work and fun.The most jocky thing is for someone to not be able to speak their mind because of the repercussions, and then do some shit that they don’t want to do.
The path to becoming a pro snowboarder has become a lot less clear in the past few years. What do you think it takes to set yourself apart and make a living off of snowboarding? Look, style, agents?
I think you and I both know snowboarders who should be able to make a living off of it, and they can’t right now or maybe never will be able to. Others who used to be able to and can’t anymore that still should. I just think if you want to do it, you really gotta try to do it. You gotta sacrifice things and you maybe gotta move to where it’s more relevant or where there’s more people around that live it.
It seems like for a lot of people, it’s hard to be sponsored without living in Salt Lake City at the moment.
Yeah totally. It’s cheap to live there and there’s a group of people that are always snowboarding so I think it’s easier for these sponsors to be like, “Oh we’ll hook up this dude who is in the scene even though he’s not necessarily as good as somebody else, but we’re seeing him all the time, and now we’ve got a personal relationship with him.” To me, it’s so shitty but at the same time, I could fall into that too if I worked at a company. It’s pretty easy to build a personal relationship around someone who is friends with people you know and is ripping. It gives you more of a reason to hook them up rather than being like, “I’ve never met him, don’t know anything about him, blah blah blah.”
I guess for a kid, what do you think the path is for doing it right?
I feel like the only real path is to do it as much as you can and to do it with different people. A lot of people will just ride with the same people all the time and you can tell; their shit is kind of stagnant. But if you ride with different people, I think it’s going to help everything about your snowboarding, more than just the way you go down the mountain. Overall industry-folk chatter and knowledge.
Totally. So many times I feel like I’ve been tripping on some superficial thing and then you’ll just talk to Curtis [Ciszek] or Austin [Smith] about it for a split second and they’re like, “Oh no, that’s not a thing, you’re good.” I feel like the biggest thing right now is keeping an open mind and being willing to adapt as you see fit. Going out and filming a video part when you’re not sponsored is probably not going to get you sponsored unfortunately. You gotta have that and also have these other things that make you cool. This is obviously a cliché thing, but you actually have to be fun to hang out with.
Or at least not be noticeably shitty to hang out with. I feel like there’s a lot of people who aren’t necessarily my friend, but we can still both exist in snowboarding.
Is there anything you think needs to change about snowboard journalism and snowboard media?
I just think quality over quantity is the ultimate goal, which is hard because as snowboarders, part of our job description now is being visible on Instagram to people you’ll never meet. And you have to do it on your own whereas before, companies might have had to organize an event or autograph signing for the public to know them.
The new autograph is liking your comment or something.
It seems like snowboard media and most of the content is just rushed and not heartfelt and just premature and kind of annoying. But that’s nobody in particular, you know, that’s just the way it has come to be.
"I THINK YOU AND I BOTH KNOW SNOWBOARDERS WHO SHOULD BE ABLE TO MAKE A LIVING OFF OF IT, AND THEY CAN’T RIGHT NOW."
That’s just how it is with everything in the internet age.
But then the magazine has to do the same thing because they’ve got sponsors that they have to make happy and if they’re not happy then the magazine can’t get made and then literally everyone is going to get mad because that platform would disappear. I do think the more the merrier, though. As far as making a magazine or a video, anything, do it.
It just keeps more people in check. When you’re the only outlet and they have no competitors, they can kind of just take the money and don’t have to do anything special because no one else is. No other company is going to put them out of business. A lot of the shit that we think is whack, the civilian snowboarders that buy gear and actually support the industry don’t think so. Obviously vlogs are popular. There’s a lot of vlogs out there that get a lot more views than some notable pros video parts. That shit sucks but maybe we don’t even fucking know anything. I mean, we definitely don’t know anything.
And I will say too, from an outsider’s perspective, I’ve always been like, “He’s a professional snowboarder and he’s a professional snowboarder. They probably hang out and think the same,” but the reality is no, they don’t even talk to each other. They know each other and they don’t beef, but they like different things, do different things, and believe different things. So with the more snowboard media, the more photos that are being printed or going online, the better, so long as it’s actually heartfelt. If there’s five different websites or magazines, then maybe not everybody has to post something on Instagram that they don’t care about every day. The five different magazines can all have their own little things that they rock with. Actually having personality in that stuff is pretty important.
A lot of people catch grief when they pick up an energy drink sponsor. Seems like no one has really had anything bad to say about you picking up Mountain Dew Rise. What’s good with that?
I guess it kind of goes on what we were talking about earlier. One of my pet peeves right now is someone who really doesn’t have support but then has an energy drink patch. I think people like to talk shit about that because it can feel like that person doesn’t really have any skin in the game. For myself, I’ve got these endemic sponsors that support me. I’ve talked with people that I’m close with about the energy drink thing and I’ve thought about for a long time. It’s not that they offered me a contract and I’m just going to say yes within three days. I thought about it for months and said no to other things. I think it depends on the circumstances, you know? Look at Harrison [Gordon]—he has been sponsored by Monster for a long time. The way that he did it, how do you hate on that? He brought money from Monster into these other things that Monster wouldn’t have had anything to do with before. I guess that’s the difference, right? If there’s thought that goes into it.
I think it’s so much different for someone like you. Instead of some guy looking at the Rev Tour results and then picks up the next kid in line. That’s such a different scenario than you getting an energy drink sponsor. A lot of those kids make it their identity, like “I’m the fucking Red Bull kid,” I don’t know if you were like that back then.
No, I definitely was. I was on Red Bull and repping it and whatever, and I’m not bummed about that. There is just this weird thing where people will get on a company and be like, “This is what I am,” and you’re like… “What the fuck? This isn’t you at all.” With the energy drink, are they actually bringing in money and supporting what the rider wants to do? Well from the people I know at this company, they do have good intentions and are trying to support us so it felt right. Similar to the magazine conversation, the more there is, the better. I think the more sponsors and whatnot in snowboarding, the better. That doesn’t mean I have to like all of them. The more, the better because that’s just more people who are going to do it and more opportunity for people who have done it for a long time to keep doing it. Personally, when it’s a brand that actually wants to support me and wants to support snowboarding, I don’t see it as a bad thing to do at all. I knew people at the brand from before and it just made sense for me.
Worst brand, best brand?
Worst brand in my opinion is Never Summer and the best brand in my opinion is Sims.
Worst snowboard video, best snowboard video?
Best snowboard video I think would be Escramble. Worst video is hard to say. The Absinthe videos have fallen off for the past four or five years. I could say Burton One World. What about you?
Of recent era, 9191 is my favorite. The Burton movie was hard to watch. Worst contest?
US Open. Of like legit competitions. Who knows if it will ever happen again.
Worst style, best style?
Ummm, worst style… So many people just look shitty. And then there’s people who have great style. Obviously I’m kind of biased but I really like Keegan Valaika’s style. And Kazu, of course.
Worst video part, best video part?
Skip it. Worst video part is so hard. Best video part… Keegan in Eversince is pretty amazing. Kazu in The Storming was the first video part that I loved though.
What are some illegal tricks?
I mean, 1440s are pretty bad most of the time. There’s some people that can make them look good or whatever but it’s not like they actually look good. What else is a dumb trick? Japans when you just kick up your feet. The way a lot of people grab Japan looks fucking bad, especially with a big trick. That’s one of my least favorite things on a snowboard—the Japan donkey kick.
Yeah, I feel like people do that move to fake style.
Right. And just like oh this is going to add difficulty. In reality, no that looks goofy.
Marry one, fuck one, kill one: Clavin, Stan, Bridges?
Haha I love this one. I’d marry Mark Clavin, I’d kill Stan, and I’d fuck Pat Bridges. Who knows what you would get out of that?
White Claw or Coors Light?
What’s the perfect spliff ratio?
85% tobacco, 15% weed.
Am that should be pro?
Pro that should be am?
Pros on Never Summer if they have that kind of thing going on—I’m not sure if they do. A lot of people in the contest scene seem to think they’re professional, and they don’t have sponsors and shit. All of them should not be pro.